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More than a sport

U men’s and women’s soccer teams help provide pathways to college through their favorite extracurricular activity.

When a group of excited kids took the field during halftime of the University of Utah men’s soccer game on Oct. 8, 2019, fans may not have realized the significance of what they were witnessing.

Gilberto Rejón Magaña, executive director of Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families (HC4YF)

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“Allowing our children to scrimmage on the same field as the team they are rooting for is a big deal,” said Gilberto Rejón Magaña, executive director of Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families (HC4YF). “It was so much fun and enjoyment for our children.”

Magaña started HC4YF about 10 years ago after realizing the kids in his neighborhood on Salt Lake City’s west side needed exposure to extracurricular activities in order to avoid becoming involved in gangs, drugs and crime. He and his son, who was 6 years old at the time, decided soccer would be a great place to start.

“It’s a very multicultural neighborhood and soccer is a universal language,” said Magaña. “We started with 11 kids and it grew every year until we had more than 80 signed up in 2013 and were able to become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Now we have more than 150 kids participating and have expanded programming beyond soccer to include community engagement projects, outdoor adventures, a reading program and more. Our mission is to provide a pathway to college for Salt Lake City’s at-risk and underserved youth.”

Involving soccer players from the U is a key part of creating these pathways to college for the Hartland youth. Magaña said players from both the men’s and women’s teams have come to their field to coach clinics. He said these interactions show the kids that they can play a sport they love and still go to college.

University of Utah women’s soccer team coaches a clinic for the Hartland Youth Soccer Club

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For the U players, it’s a chance to get involved in the Salt Lake community and encourage the next generation of soccer enthusiasts.

“Our players love the sport and recognize that soccer has given them so much and enhanced their lives, so they really enjoy being able to provide that same opportunity to these kids,” said Rob Karas, head coach of the U men’s soccer team. “It’s a great partnership with HC4YF and we’re excited to continue building that relationship.”

The Hartland Youth Soccer Club is a partnership provided through University Neighborhood Partners‘ Hartland Partnership Center. In order to participate, the boys and girls must attend school and keep their grades up. They aren’t focused on winning games as much as teaching life lessons and developing values of respect, responsibility, compassion and self-discipline.

Magaña said they partner with individuals, parents, teachers and various organizations, but they can always use volunteers and donations to help with equipment and uniforms. They try to keep costs for players to a minimum.

Learn more about how you can help HC4YF here.